My alarm buzzed at 6:00AM, waking me out of my deep slumber. I fumbled in the darkness of the early morning to shut the alarm off and begin yet another 12+ hour day of work and commuting.
Originally, I didn’t want a car. I wanted to just get by with a bike, a ride form my boyfriend every now and then, and the trains—yet it was impossible. The distance from my boyfriend’s house to the train station was 20 minutes away by car, which is almost 90 minutes away by bike. Thus I was forced to lease a car, which costs me a ridiculous amount of money every month. An asset I honestly don’t want, but is impossible to live without in the United States.
At 6:45 I leave the house and arrive at the train station just in time for the 7:03 train. It takes 70 minutes by rapid train to reach downtown Los Angeles. I could drive, but with rush hour traffic my commute would be over two hours. Driving in high traffic for over 4-5 hours daily is a road rage nightmare I refuse to burden. Instead, I pay 24 dollars a day (350 dollars a month–a hefty sum) to have peace of mind and ride the train.
Once I reach downtown Los Angeles, it’s another twenty minute walk form the station to my office. I finally arrive at the office at 8:45 AM. Work officially begins at 9 AM.
My office is a small one, with all of my co-workers being Japanese (except for one). All of my work is conducted in Japanese—from the language down to the red tape politics. I like to call my office “the library,” because no one talks to each other and it’s a silent, sterile place. I can think of no other words to describe my office environment except for “ice box.” We are separated by cubicles and face a wall. We don’t make jokes or talk to one another. Sometimes I flashback to my former boss Takada-san in Shanghai that sat by my side, ever smiling, and I hold back tears.
But that life is over, and I’m in America now.
Work ends at 5 PM. I walk another twenty minutes back to the train station to make my return ride home, which is the 5:45 PM departure train. The train ride home is, again, another 90 minutes–but unforeseen delays such as technical malfunctions or track misalignment will sometimes delay my arrival ten, or even twenty minutes late.
The clock strikes 8:00 PM and I’m finally home. My 12 hour day is finally finished.
I’m famished. I open the fridge and there is nothing readily available to eat without cooking, and my heart sinks again.
“Cheer up Mary,” my boyfriend says as he walks into the kitchen to greet me, worry on his face. “Things will be ok. Don’t be down.”
I put on my best smile and tell him I’m fine. Go upstairs, I shoo him, let me make dinner. I’ll cook to cheer myself up and forget about everything. Don’t worry about me.
My boyfriend, concerned, gives me a big hug and comforts me. I’ll be right back, he says, and he goes upstairs to tidy up.
I take out the cutting board and knife. I pull out the vegetables from the fridge, a few tomatoes, some kale, and an avocado. I start to boil some water for pasta. As I wash the tomatoes in the sink, the aching in my chest finally gives way and tears begin to fall.
Before I know it, I can’t stop crying. I take out a few tissues and wipe my eyes, but the tears keep coming.
I have been repeating the above process for over eight months, and it’s slowly eating away at my sanity.
Basically, I’m miserable in America.
I lived for six years without a car and without a commute. Only a year ago, I lived in a place where I could reach the grocery story with a simple, ten minute walk.
Now, it’s a fifteen minute drive with my car. I have to drive everywhere, and traffic can sometimes make a ten mile drive 30-40 minutes long.
I only have five fellow employees at my office and none of them are warm, open or friendly. At all of my previous jobs I easily befriended co-workers, but even after eight months at this position I feel no camaraderie with any of my staff. I have made no friends at work, and thus have yet to make any close friends in California.
My commute is more than four hours a day. It’s a brutal commute, a commute which many would call insanity—if you told me I would be doing this a year ago, I would tell you not a chance in hell. Yet, here I am doing it—and all to save money.
Rent in downtown Los Angeles is around 1,000 dollars per month, which is simply not affordable. Even if I were to live in the outskirts of Los Angeles, rent would be 800 dollars for a shared flat and I would still have a one hour commute with a 100 dollar monthly parking fee. I returned to America in order to save money, not blow it all on rent, so I endure with the commute because currently I can live rent free with my boyfriend and, personally, I don’t think living in L.A. is worth the money.
I flashback to my commute in Shanghai from one year ago: A mere ten minute walk to the office from my affordable apartment in the heart of the city. More tears start to emerge and I tell myself that I can’t compare, I just can’t, and I block Shanghai out of my mind, hoping to stop the tears.
When I think of my friends in Shanghai—I’m a goner. I’m gushing at this point and I can’t stop the memories from flooding in.
Finding a job that will sustain a Los Angeles lifestyle is difficult, yet finding employment in my boyfriend’s suburban neighborhood is even more impossible. This, coupled with the endless commute in all directions as well as the aggressive drivers on the road, has driven me to the point of insanity.
My boyfriend needs to stay here for another year and a half for work reasons, and while I love him and want to stay here with him, I don’t know how to find a happy medium. I ponder the thought of moving into Los Angeles proper to perhaps enjoy this so-called “glamorous lifestyle” that L.A. offers, but it doesn’t look attractive in the slightest and I’m not thrilled at the aspect of moving away from my boyfriend. Plus, paying high rent to live in a city that’s clogged up with traffic and overpriced parking seems hardly worth the price tag.
Everyday, when I walk out the door at 6:45 AM to leave for work and return back through the same door at 8:00 PM, defeated, I wonder about how I can change my life—about how I absolutely need to change my life. I can’t continue to live with a long commute like this or in a city that is so heavily reliant on a car; but aside from New York I can’t think of any place in the U.S. where I can live comfortably without a vehicle (especially on the west coast). I want to find a happy solution where I have a job, I enjoy my life, and I can still stay with my boyfriend—but I can’t seem to find an answer.
It’s been almost one year since I left Shanghai, and not a day goes by I don’t think about my life there. As much as I’m trying, as hard as I’m fighting, as much as I want to—
I just can’t adjust. And maybe I never will.
I don’t open up much on here, but recently my writing has suffered and my state of mind in ruins due to my Los Angeles lifestyle. I don’t want to be negative on this blog, so I try to cover it up with interesting topics and stories from abroad—but really, this is a blog about me, and as horrible as this is, my reality is the above.
I know that I need to make a change. I know that something has to give—I just need the strength and resolve to do it.
Have you ever felt stuck? Or have any of you ever had troubles readjusting to home?